Thirty years after the first unanimous all-party promise to end child poverty, Campaign 2000’s new report shows that over 1,350,000 children in Canada live in poverty, with Indigenous children, racialised and immigrant children, and children in female-led single parent families disproportionately affected.
The national child poverty rate has decreased exceptionally slowly over the last 30 years, from 22% to 18.6%, the report says. At the current rate, it will take another 155 years for the government to reach the goal to eliminate child poverty.
Campaign 2000 is a non-partisan, cross-Canada network of 120 national, provincial and community partner organizations committed to working to end child and family poverty, hosted by Family Service Toronto.
“Despite multiple commitments to end poverty, we still have exceptionally high rates of poverty and unjustifiable levels of income inequality for a country as wealthy as Canada,” says Leila Sarangi, National Coordinator for Campaign 2000. “This is, in part, due to the way in which the government has decided to measure poverty. The use of the Market Basket Measure, now entrenched in law, drastically underestimates the rate and prevalence of poverty, making it seem like we are further ahead in ending poverty than we really are.”
The new national report, ‘2020: Setting the Stage for a Poverty-Free Canada’, provides strong direction for ending child and family poverty. New analysis captures the uneven reductions in poverty across geographic jurisdictions and highlights the uneven rate of poverty across marginalized groups. Using the widely accepted Low Income Measure calculated from taxfiler data, the report card illustrates the breadth and depth of poverty in Canada and calls for bold targets to reduce poverty by 50% by the year 2025, among all groups.
“The percentage of Nova Scotian children living in low-income circumstances has decreased less than 1% since the 1989 promise to end child poverty,” says Lesley Frank, Associate Professor of Sociology at Acadia University. “The child poverty rate remains high, particularly in relation to the rest of Canada. Nova Scotia has performed very poorly in reducing child poverty despite the introduction of the Canada Child Benefit in 2016. These reports remind us of how many children we are leaving behind, how broken our social contract is, and the urgency to fix it.”
The report examines the impact of the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) on family incomes over the course of its first full year of implementation. While the CCB has prevented more than 684,000 children under 18 from living in poverty in 2017, some of the most vulnerable families are unable to access the Benefit, including children whose parents have precarious immigration status, women in shelters who are fleeing violence, and many First Nations communities.
This finding is particularly damning when considered alongside the abysmally low social assistance rates in place across the country. Families who face barriers in accessing both the CCB and adequate income security programs have been left struggling to live one small step above destitution.
“Boosting incomes through government transfers is key to ending poverty. Enhancing these transfers is absolutely necessary, including increasing the Canada Social Transfer, removing arbitrary growth limits, and changing the Income Tax Act so that all families can receive the Canada Child Benefit,” says Sid Frankel, Professor of Social Work at University of Manitoba. “But ending poverty is not only about adequate income. We have a moral imperative to make sure that every child in this country starts their lives with every support that our society can provide. We need to keep building strong social infrastructure, including high quality universal childcare, adequate housing, and universal pharmacare.”
The report urges the federal government to make specific, targeted investments in order to tackle the deepest pockets of child poverty across the country. Campaign 2000 provincial partners in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island are also releasing province-specific report cards, underscoring the need for Canada’s federal government to take action that will have strong and positive impacts on the lives of children and families across the country.
“We have the tools, we have the data, we know what needs to be done. The new minority parliament has a unique opportunity to collaborate on our shared goal to end poverty once and for all,” says Sarangi. “We simply cannot afford to fail another generation of children.”